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I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin & a best friend. I am a poet, a lawyer & a survivor. I've learned that God will give you a second chance.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

It's Not About Pink Ribbons

On October 11 I posted the following status update on Facebook:

Six years ago today I had my annual physical where my doctor found a lump that she did not like. And so my story began.

As I wrote those words I realized I had so much more to “say” but there were too many words for a status update. (Status updates should be short and sweet so people actually read them). My thoughts went from Breast Cancer Awareness month to Pink October to what does it mean to me to what is it that I really want to communicate. You see, in the breast cancer community there is a rebellion against the pinking of October. Survivors object to the commercialization, the fact that many companies slap a pink ribbon on their product to make money but do not actually donate money to research, if at all, and that some companies give their money to foundations that do not support research.
I understand that sentiment. It is one of the reasons I support both the American Cancer Society and the Avon Foundation. Their money goes to research to find a cure for cancer. A victory for one type of cancer is a victory for all.
How do I feel about the pink ribbon campaign and Breast Cancer Awareness month? Awareness is a very good thing. But awareness is not about silly slogans, hearts on social media sites or going braless on Metastatic Breast Cancer Day. Awareness is about education. I wear a pink bracelet every day during the month of October. It was made for me by one of my friends. It reminds me of her love, as well as all the love and support I received (and still receive). It is also an opportunity for people to ask. And when there is an opportunity, I share. I share my knowledge as well as my story.
Part of my story is the fact that my doctor, my primary care physician, felt something she did not like during my annual physical. You see, not all breast cancer is found by having a mammogram.

[Having said that, if you are a woman over the age of 40, go get your annual mammogram!]

Breast cancer is found by doctors, by woman and men who notice a change in their breast, from mammograms, and from education. You need to know that not all breast cancer is the same. It is not a one-size-fits all disease.
The most common types of breast cancer are invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma. Some less common types are inflammatory breast cancer (there is no actual lump), triple-negative breast cancer (which is a diagnosis), Paget disease of the nipple, Phyllodes tumor (found in the connective tissue of the breast), and angiosarcoma (the cancer starts in the blood vessels or lymph nodes). Source: American Cancer Society.

There are risk factors associated with breast cancer. Some you can change. Some you cannot. Your age is a big factor. Only one in eight invasive breast cancers occur in women under the age of 45. We’ve all read about the gene mutation factor. Other risk factors you cannot change are a family history of breast cancer, your own personal history, your race or ethnicity (white women are more likely to develop breast cancer while African-American women are more likely to die from breast cancer), having dense breast tissue, and certain benign breast conditions. My friend Leslie wrote about dense breast tissue and her message is a very important one if you have dense breast tissue.

There are also lifestyle-related factors like having children, birth control, hormone replacement therapy and breast feeding. Now, I do not recommend having children just to avoid breast cancer because there is no guarantee, but if you want children you should know that studies have shown that women who have had no children or who had their first child after the age of 30 have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. Other factors that you can control are alcohol intake, being overweight and your amount of physical activity.
As for the pinking of October I wrote about my feelings on the subject earlier this year in Think Pink. I do not object to the pink ribbon pins, but remember that Pink October is about getting the word out. It’s about education.

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